On Sunday we were offered more Washington Post editorial page brilliance by David Broder. In “The War Recovery?” Broder looks beyond the looming Republican takeover of Congress to ask how Obama can get reelected in 2012. He recommends that Obama join arms with the new Republican Congress and maneuver the country to its third war in the CENTCOM theater—this time against Iran.
War and peace influence the economy. Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.
Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.
This column offers some of the strongest evidence yet of the moral depravity and sheer nuttiness that populates Fred Hiatt’s editorial page. Broder’s claim that World War II “resolved the economic crisis” rests on the fact that the economic crisis ended during the war, which is far from proof that the war ended the crisis (Matthew Yglesias gives an alternate view here). Moreover, Broder misses the relationship between the current economic crisis and war spending. Nobel Prize-winning economist and Harper’s contributor Joseph Stiglitz, for instance, who put the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush years alone at $3 trillion, linked those costs to the severe recession that the United States experienced starting in 2008.
The case of Britain in World War II also offers lessons different from the one discerned by Broder. Britain engaged in heavy deficit spending to finance the war and then found itself enmeshed in colonial struggles after the war. The consequences were devastating for the British economy—Keynes alluded to it as a “financial Dunkirk”–and it took a generation for Britain to recover. Keynes, the great war economist of the last century, who hastened to refute appeasement politics and embraced the need for the Second World War, also offered some specific words of caution about our tendency to underassess costs and overassess benefits of war.
There may be good reasons for some future military action by the United States in the Middle East, but it is an insult to our intelligence and our values as a nation to suggest that boosting the economy is one of them. Broder’s column shows how little the Beltway punditry has learned from one of the nation’s most ill-considered foreign ventures in recent memory.